The Character Encounters come from Knitted by God's Plan.
There's not a park that's actively featured in my story, so I brought one of the characters (from True Heroes) out into my world. Without further ado...
A playground. Who am I going to meet at a playground? Only one of my characters would have motivation to go to a park for socialization, and he’s busy on a role play thread. Most of them are, actually…
The evening sun colors the clouds various shades of orange and pink. A breeze kicks up, and shakes the tops of the cottonwood trees.
On my trek across the park, I pass by the skate bowl (a couple guys look at me; my nervousness kicks in and I fidget past), the restrooms (and nearly collide with a couple of bikers going way too fast around the curve), a pavilion, and arrive at one of the playgrounds. The munchkin-sized pink and purple slides, swings, and stairs are devoid of their intended occupants.
I continue on and arrive at the exercise “park.” Yellow bars, blue benches. A chart with health tips and instructions for the seven pieces of equipment there.
“Oh, hey! You!” I smile at the character, who is barely noticeable, sitting beneath a small pine.
A boy of about thirteen years leaps to his feet. His jacket hood catches on the low branches, and pulls back to reveal a ski mask. Brown eyes jerk between me and his progress at disentangling himself from the tree.
I take a step forward. “Hey, calm down. I’m not going to kill you.”
He chuckles, an “I don’t believe you” look written on what little I can see of his face. His voice wavers between a tenor and soprano. “Can you…turn around? Please?”
With a shrug, I say, “Alright.”
Grunts and slight tearing sounds reach my ears. “Um, are you okay?”
“I’m fine! Just give me a minute…there! You can look now.”
I shake my head and turn. Then I slap a palm to my forehead. The boy—Fireblast—is in costume.
A white jumpsuit. With stitched on flames (or are they supposed to be explosions?) covering nearly the entire thing. Red leather gloves. Aaand a really, really tight red mask with opaque eye holes.
My hand slowly drags down the length of my face. “Seriously?”
“What? I can’t let anyone know who I am, so…”
“You thought that dressing like that would make you less noticeable or something?”
Clacks and stifled laughter sound. I turn and see a company of several skateboarders. They say nothing to us, but I swear that I can hear laughing mumbles about “cosplay” and (an impolite phrase for) “botched” when they pass.
My face reddens. I turn back to him quickly. “And I thought you didn’t care about the Deputy’s rules.”
Fireblast steps out from his no-longer-so-great hiding place behind the tree. He puts his hands on his hips and kicks at the border between the park foam and grass. “Well, I care about that one. I don’t want anyone to recognize me.”
I think that’s more memorable than regular clothing, but whatever.
“Dude…” I sigh. “Never mind. Anyways, how’re you doing?” I walk over to the nearest piece of equipment with a slab of latticed plastic and sit on it. Fireblast follows, his head swiveling until I swear he’s going to go owl and rotate it 360 degrees.
“Fine, I guess. Besides not being able to have any interaction with anyone but my fellow inmates, living in cold, artificial metal rooms all day, and practicing setting people’s rear ends on fire by night, I’m golden.”
I lean back on the bench (which doesn’t have a back) and reach for the grass. “You forgot to mention your free time in the afternoon.”
My character laughs nervously. “What do you mean? I go straight to my room, same as everyone else.”
“Uh-huh.” I sit back up and twiddle with blades of grass.
There is silence for a time. Then, “Alright! So I’m going out into the city. What’s wrong with living for a few hours?”
“Other than disobeying direct authority and putting both yourself and your ‘fellow inmates’ in danger of being discovered?” I raise my eyebrows.
The wind pushes clouds over the sun. I tug my jacket closer around me.
Fireblast crosses his arms. “When you put it like that…” He flops his hands down to his sides in frustration. “Look, all I want is to be a hero! ‘Naptime’ is the only chance I have to get out there and be that.”
Before I speak, I look at the ground. “But you’re not being a hero.”
“You’re putting lives in danger.”
“What do you mean?”
How much should I tell him?
I bite my lip. “The Council has a way of running things…”
He snorts. “Yeah. They do. Oppression and lies.”
“And their own version of order. Licenses, approval, papers. Everyone in the city follows their plans like a script.”
He stares at me. “So you’re saying…that…what, exactly?”
“Council. Licenses. Script. Think about it.”
He grips his head. “Ow, owowow…” After a minute or two of him thinking, he looks at me. “You’re saying that none of it is ‘real’?”
“I never thought I’d do this to you, but…” He does a clumsy flip over the bench and stands behind me.
I groan and put my head in my hands. “It’s not going to work.”
“We’ll see. Liar, liar,” he begins, “pants on…” A pause, during which I know he’s pointing at me. “…fire.”
Fireblast exclaims, “Aw, man!”
That strange, out-of-nowhere, maniacal urge to giggle builds up inside my chest. I choke on it.
“What? It’s not enough that the entire reality I thought I knew is now shattered, you have to laugh about my powers?”
Unable to stop myself, I double over and nearly fall off the bench. My entire body shakes. At first, there is no sound. Then a high-pitched, roiling, scream-like laughter. I fall off the bench, holding my middle and wishing I wasn’t laughing so hard. It hurts my sides…
Fireblast says something, but I can’t hear him because I’m laughing so loudly.
I’m able to (not really) contain myself. Tears stream down my face, and I’m still resisting the urge to all-out laugh.
I can barely see Fireblast through my tears and fogged up contact lenses; he looks like a blur of messy color.
“I…just…” I gasp for breath. “It’s just…aaaa, I can’t help it!” As I speak, I dissolve into another fit of laughter (though it’s not nearly as loud as the first.)
“Alright, I get it! You find my powers hilariously lame. Can you stop?”
No reaction from me other than more laughter.
“Um…can you stop?”
I manage to gasp, “No!”
Eventually, I stop, gasping for breath. “Okay, okay, I’m done.” I clear my throat and wipe my eyes.
Fireblast raises an eyebrow. “You sure?”
“Yeah. In all seriousness…” With a sigh and a few grunts, I rearrange myself and sit in a cross-legged position. “I know you want to be a hero. But what if being a hero isn’t—”
“What I was meant to be?” He tries to lower the pitch of his voice, but it…doesn’t work. He prods a finger against his chest. “I’ve heard that before, and I’m not buying it!”
“Are you going to let me finish?”
My super pauses, and I can tell that his face is nearly as red as the mask it’s beneath. “That’s…not what you were going to say?”
I shake my head.
“Oh. Sorry.” He sits down on the bench. “Please continue.”
“I was going to say, what if being a hero isn’t what you think it is? What if being a hero means doing something that goes against what you’ve always believed?”
He scoffs. “Well, you already took care of that last part. I guess…I’d do my best. Same as always. Not that it does much.”
“Hey, despite—in addition to—your, uh…unique power, you contribute something.”
“It’s definitely not knowledge, strength, or anything like that! And that’s all the useful stuff…”
There’s a smile (that’s not as insane as my earlier ones) on my face. “I have another question for you.”
“Shoot. It’s not like you can break my reality any more than you already have.”
“If you weren’t dressed like a circus clown—”
“—what’s something you do very, very well?”
He leans back and shrugs. “I don’t know. Eat?”
“Sneak. And I have a feeling that you’re more of a people person than you’re letting on.”
“How would I know? I don’t exactly get out much.”
“Well, next time you’re out, why don’t you try? Talk to the first person you come across—hero or villain. See what happens.”
Fireblast stares at me as if I just said something unbelievable. “Wait, you’re not going to stop me?”
He shakes for a second, then leaps to his feet, shouting, “Alright!”
Fireblast does a few fist pumps, a little jig, then shakes one of my arms enthusiastically. "Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"
I chuckle. "No problem. Now...can you put on a regular outfit?"
Hope you enjoyed reading! Any questions, comments? Let me know what you think. :)